Preview: Will The Union Run The Red Bulls?


Philly Soccer Page’s Adam Cann with a Union-tinged preview of tonight’s major MLS match-up.

Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the United States. When the Houston Dynamo rose from the ashes of the original San Jose Earthquakes in 2005, Philly became the largest US city without an MLS franchise. In 2010, thanks in large part to a powerful grassroots campaign, that changed. And in 2011, the Philadelphia Union are a playoff team.

The New York Red Bulls franchise, a caffeinated version of the even more heinously named MetroStars, stand in stark contrast to the Philadelphia story. Around since the start of the league, they were handed a star-studded roster in 1996 and expected to crush all challengers and become MLS’s signature team. Yet, with the trophy case still bare, the Red Bulls continue to buy big and flop hard. And in 2011, they need to beat Philadelphia to keep their playoff destiny in their own hands. Or hooves. Whatever bulls have.

But leaving club histories aside, this is New York and Philadelphia. No factual justification is needed when geography and American football long ago sowed the seeds of a rivalry that, unlike any with DC, has actual representation in Congress. Add to the mix that New York’s season is on the line and Philly can drop as low as the third wild card spot if they lose and you have a game that truly deserves its spot in prime time.


Both teams will be missing one of their starting strikers for the match. While Red Bulls fans may argue that Thierry Henry is a bigger loss than Veljko Paunovic, they would be wrong. Henry has carried much of the goalscoring load for New York, but Paunovic’s ability to play between the lines and open space for Sebastien Le Toux has been one of those keys to the season that never shows up in John Harkes’ Keys to the Game (Thursday’s predicted Harkes’ Keys: 1) Stop Le Toux, 2) Don’t Give Up Goals 3) Marquez Something Something). The injuries create opportunities for a trio of young players bidding for post-season minutes. Juan Agudelo may not start up top, but trust that he will play significant minutes for New York. Danny Mwanga and Roger Torres have been on the outside looking in for most of the season and their performances on Thursday will likely determine who is the first sub off the bench in the playoffs. The two Union young guns combined for the winner when these teams faced off in April, which brings us to the fun topic of Tim Ream.

Ream had the second assist on the Union’s goal at PPL Park, making a singularly horrific pass to Mwanga that led to Torres’ winner. That play stands as a metaphor for the US international’s shambolic sophomore season. Not that he has been offered much help by Rafa I-Don’t-Marq-uez-anyone. The Ream-Marquez partnership is a perfect place to begin a compare/contrast of these teams. And there are really just too many beautiful comparisons to ignore.

1) Ream-Marquez vs Califf-Valdes

One American, one international. Ream is supposed to set the world on fire, but so far all he has done is make Jurgen Klinsmann’s seat hotter. Califf returned to MLS, gave up his captain’s armband, and put together an MVP season. Marquez and Valdes… well, one is a superstar who has been one of the best signings for any MLS team and will be for years to come. The other is Marquez.

2) Faryd Mondragon vs Nothing

The Union fell short of the playoffs and the Flyers fell short of the Stanley Cup. Both teams got wise and plugged the most important hole on their team: Goalie. That Mondragon came with enough leadership to teach leadership classes on Leadership Day while leading a leadership hike up the mountain of victory is a nice bonus. Not sure the three-headed monster in the New York net can say the same. Side note: Look at the Red Bulls roster page. Every player stands in front of the words, “New York Is My Home.” Now go to Google maps and search Red Bull Arena…

3) Zac MacMath-Michael Farfan vs Corey Hertzog-John Rooney

I know what you’re thinking Red Bulls fans: Who? But it’s true. You drafted those guys this year. Michael Farfan, affectionately known as Marfan, is a Rookie of the Year candidate. MacMath lived up to the hype filling in when Mondragon went down. John Rooney got a call from the England national team. They said, “Hey, tell your brother to stop slide tackling people. Thanks, bye.”


4) Thierry Henry vs Carlos Ruiz

New York does win the battle here. Without Henry, they are nowhere near the playoffs. Remember that time Thierry Henry got a silly red card right before the biggest match of the 2011 season? Yeah.

On Thursday, the Union will come out in a 4-1-3-2, with either Freddy Adu pushed high or Danny Mwanga starting alongside Seba Le Toux. New York will counter with a 4-4-2 that will look more like a 4-3-3 if Dane Richards starts wide to allow Agudelo into the lineup. Leaving Richards wide would be a smart move for the Red Bulls, since very few strikers have emerged once they enter the Bermuda Triangle patrolled by Califf and Valdes. The Union are susceptible to speed and can be broken down on the dribble. Will Hans Backe realize this? Don’t get your hopes up.

Philadelphia will look to pressure the ball early, but if the game becomes muddled, they will sit back and wait to counter. The underwhelming Freddy Adu must have a strong match for the Union. Everyone’s eyes will be on Le Toux, and given space and time Adu must become the chance creator he was brought in to be. Despite his poor performances thus far, Adu is a lock for a starting spot in the playoffs. He must show he can lift this team to the next level offensively.

This match does not need a lot riding on it to make your heart race. Union right back Sheanon Williams trained with New York in 2010 before joining Philly, and he sums Thursday night’s game up well: “We already have a rivalry [with New York] and we don’t like each other very much, so we’ll definitely be going hard after each other.”

Game on.

28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Union>NYRB on 2011/10/20 at 10:31 AM

    Adam Cann isn’t good. He’s great.

    Just like the Union.


  2. […] The Shin Guardian invited Philly Soccer Page to write a preview of Thursday night’s Philadelphia Union game against New York. And when the Shin Guardian calls, it is PSP’s Adam Cann who answers the call. […]


  3. Posted by crow on 2011/10/20 at 10:46 AM

    This is the best preview article ever! Even had a shot at John Harkes! I can’t wait to hear what the keys to the game are. And im so sad I couldn’t make the bus trip north.


  4. Posted by Zolo79 on 2011/10/20 at 11:28 AM

    This is why I love PSP! Another great article, Adam!


  5. Posted by msg24365 on 2011/10/20 at 12:00 PM

    “Marquez and Valdes… well, one is a superstar who has been one of the best signings for any MLS team and will be for years to come. The other is Marquez.” — another GREAT PSP quote (I still love the quote comparing Marquez to Ruiz on crack and jihad…)

    Love this preview. BTW, the buses have left PPL and are on the way to Dead Bull Arena. Over 1000 SOBs.

    Respect to the shinguardian for giving some love to a local blogger.


  6. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/10/20 at 4:41 PM

    A 5-0 Philly win would be very nice. But I won’t get too greedy; I’ll settle for 4-0.


  7. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/20 at 5:20 PM

    Union has the second best defensive record in MLS, eh? Find that surprising considering he was unmarked, drifted inbetween 2 CBs far too easily.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/20 at 5:46 PM

      And Richards should have cut across the defender, any contact and it would have left the referee no option but to award a penalty [and perhaps a red card]. Lame attempt in the end.


  8. Posted by London on 2011/10/20 at 5:37 PM

    stream anyone?


  9. Posted by dth on 2011/10/20 at 5:58 PM

    Even more mysterious than the continued starts for Rafa Marquez is the continuance of his taking free kicks.


    • Posted by Crow on 2011/10/20 at 7:09 PM

      And even more mysterious is how he gets away with not getting carded for some of his horrible challenges. I’ve never dispised an athlete more than Marquez.


  10. Posted by Crow on 2011/10/20 at 6:02 PM

    ?????? WTH??? I thought the game started at 9 PM? I saw it listed as 9 PM multiple places! I was wondering why it was starting so late. I guess I didn’t miss much.


  11. Posted by Crow on 2011/10/20 at 6:06 PM

    What were John Harkes’ keys to the game?


    • New York will have to avoid being #notgoodenough. For their part, sometimes the union are #simplynotgoodenough, and they #havetobebetterreally


  12. Not even trying to be a NY hater – even though that’s admittedly me – but does Luke Rodgers look awful? Even the sitter aside, everything slightly technical the guy tries doesn’t come off


  13. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/20 at 6:44 PM

    What are the odds that NYRBs wins the whole thing?


  14. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/20 at 6:50 PM

    Have to ask: where has all the Tim Ream love gone? A few month ago he had a “high ceiling” and was the ball-playing world-class-defender-in-the-making… not trying to flame, just saying.


    • Posted by Crow on 2011/10/20 at 7:02 PM

      I don’t think the answer is that hard. Watch his appearances for the USMNT or some of his games for the Red Bulls. I’m almost embarrassed that I was campaigning for him so hard in the Spring.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/20 at 7:24 PM

        Well this is the thing; I have watched him a decent amount and never really understood why there was so much hootin’ and hollerin’ about his inclusion.


        • Posted by Crow on 2011/10/20 at 7:27 PM

          I guess it was just everyone jumping on the hype train. I remember seeing some games and he looked like a solid defender and everyone was talking about his distribution skills. Then came the Spring friendlies with Gooch and Boca just wildly kicking the ball upfield and out-of-bounds. I think that’s when the Ream train really took off. It was still before the MLS season had really started.


          • Posted by dth on 2011/10/20 at 9:18 PM

            I’m still on the Ream bandwagon. Lonely place. Silly to discard him.

            I guess the ultimate exemplar for this is Brek Shea. To hear some people tell it, he never should’ve been called up after Colombia. To hear others tell it, he should’ve been shot and executed for having the effrontery of sucking in his debut.


            • Posted by crow on 2011/10/20 at 9:22 PM

              That is a good point. Hopefully he can just put this year behind him even if that takes heading to a new team. He certainly redefined what a sophomore slump can be though.

            • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/10/20 at 10:20 PM

              I’m there with you — he’s swooning. The one worry I have which wasn’t apparent till this year is overall strength. He’d get moved around last year, but this year team’s are attacking him with physicality and he hasn’t responded well.

            • Posted by Jared on 2011/10/21 at 5:03 AM

              Couple of major differences between Shea and Ream. Shea was awful in his debut then came back and did well for the US. Ream continues to be awful. Shea improved in MLS and is becoming one of the league’s best players. Ream continues to be awful in MLS.

            • Posted by dth on 2011/10/21 at 9:07 AM

              Except Shea was awful against Chile in the Camp Cupcake friendly too. I’m sure if you went back–even on TSG comment threads–you’d find plenty of remarks which look very foolish in retrospect. Remember also this was during the Brek Shea, International caliber CB fad.

          • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/21 at 7:10 AM

            IMO, it is not that Ream’s distribution from the back is excellent, it is more the other CB’s are awful. But the fact that he does not lump the ball forward at the first chance is a step in the right direction. He just needs to concentrate more, and read danger better.

            I do want him to do well and improve, afterall, he does play for my local MLS team…


  15. Posted by Crow on 2011/10/20 at 7:08 PM

    Disgusting performance by the Union- one of their worst played games of the year. Their performance last week in Toronto was mediocre at best, but this was terrible. How you can’t get up for a rivalry game when you have a chance to possibly eliminate your rivals, clinch homefield advantage and/or a bye is beyond me. I didn’t like the Union celebrating so much last week after clinching the playoff spot- (especially after blowing a very winnable game) there is alot of work to be done. Nowak’s bizarre lineup decisions continue to anger me and Adu better pick up his game in a hurry or Nowak and Adu can both leave town.


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